Results of the visit of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to Russia demonstrated that despite its dissatisfaction with Russia, the US has launched real cooperation with Iran. During Khatami’s meeting with Russian authorities it was frankly announced that Iran considered Russia to be a strategic neighbor. So far this does not look like a union of the countries, but after signing a treaty on basics of relations and principles of collaboration on March the countries will definitely become closer and understand each other better.

The treaty says that Russia and Iran are building mutual relations based on sovereign equality, cooperation, mutual trust, respect of sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

The treaty also states that each party is committed not to use force or threats of force in mutual relations, not to use its territory for aggression, subversion and separatist operations against the other party. If one of the parties is subject to aggression on the part of any country, the other country will not provide any assistance to aggressor, and will contribute to settling disputes on the basis of UN bylaws and international law.

Thus, Moscow and Tehran took an important step towards partnership and voiced the main postulates intended to secure mutual security, and allowing the countries to treat each other without suspicion. This was moreover valuable since the US defined Iran as a “rouge state” and implemented sanctions against it. Russia stretched out a hand of cooperation to Iran, which again confirmed its independence from Washington.

This independence was obviously demonstrated in common statements of Moscow and Tehran on many international problems, including the problems of Caspian and Middle Asian regions. Thus, during his meeting with the Russian president in the Kremlin Khatami announced that “any foreign presence in the Middle Asian and Caspian regions may break the balance of peace and stability there.” According to him, to achieve peace and stability in the region “we do not need any foreign presence.” Putin was more reserved, but did not object to Khatami’s statement, adding that Russian-Iranian collaboration had become an important factor contributing to strengthening of security and stability both in the region and in the world.

Observers noted that during the visit of the Iranian President to Russia the parties failed to come to any agreement on the Caspian problem. Meanwhile, the Russian-Iranian treaty confirmed and legalized a very important clause stating that until the legal regime of the Caspian Sea improved, the parties would not officially recognize any borders in this sea. Proceeding from this assumption, they would establish cooperation in the Caspian Sea by developing necessary legal mechanisms in fishery, seafaring, coast trade, mineral resources development, and environment protection. Moscow and Tehran confirmed the reality and validity of the agreement between the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic and Persia of February 26, 1921, and agreement on trade and seafaring between the USSR and Iran of May 25, 1940. This confirmation manifested the wish of the parties to solve the Caspian problem taking into account mutual interests and good will.

The parties did not make many official statements about military technological cooperation officially. Meanwhile, during his meeting with Khatami the Russian leader confirmed that Russia would continue military technological cooperation with Iran “without breaching of its international obligations.” According to Putin, applications of the Iranian party to Russian manufacturers “are focused on defensive armament.”

Meanwhile, a few hours after signing the Russian-Iranian treaty, official Washington expressed, to put it mildly, dissatisfaction about the resumption of Russian-Iranian contacts.

The Bush administration considers Russia’s plans to sell “improved conventional arms or hazardous technologies like nuclear missiles technologies” to Iran “an area of special concern for the United States.” March 12 Official spokesperson for the US Department of State Richard Boucher called Iran a “rogue state.”

According to Boucher, Russia’s intentions are “counter-productive” because armament and technologies would be sold to a country and region from which a “threat may originate for all of us.” However, Boucher admitted that the US does not possess information about what exactly Russia plans to sell to Iran.

Commenting on US concern about Russian-Iranian military contacts, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told journalists that in the near future the government would make a decision about possible export of only defensive weapons to Iran, including air defense systems. Klebanov added that Iran had not asked Russia to export offensive armament at all, and Iranian officials had spoken only about weapons which perform defensive functions. “It is difficult to call air defense systems offensive weapons even if they are studied attentively through a microscope,” said Klebanov.

Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov made similar statements during his visit to Washington and meetings with Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor to the President, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Ivanov once again stated that military cooperation of Russia and Iran was not aimed against third countries, and did not threaten US security.

What will the contents of the Russian-Iranian military cooperation be? According to the Iranian program for upgrading the Armed Forces until 2010, the country has composed a plan of production and import of modern armaments and combat materiel. This plan envisions purchasing a big part of the arms from Russia.

Some observers noted that during the recent visit of the Iraqi Defense Minister to Russia, military technological contacts were passive. They evaluated the non-signing of new deals for armaments supply from Russia as “the cautiousness of a Moscow only just recovering from the syndrome of the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement,” which prohibited Russian-Iranian military cooperation. Meanwhile, this interpretation does not hold very fast, since there is a legal basis for developing defense contacts between Moscow and Tehran.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia and Iran signed four intergovernmental agreements on conventional arms supply. Russia and Iran also signed an agreement on collaboration in the area of civil nuclear energy. The countries planned that Russia would de facto rearm the Iranian Armed Forces, and would build a defense and nuclear industry for this country. According to the web site, before the Gore-Chernomyrdin memorandum blocking Russian-Iranian military collaboration came into effect, Moscow supplied at least two regiments of MiG-29 fighters and Su-24 bombers, three diesel submarines of 877EKM project (Kilo according to NATO classification), including their coastal maintenance infrastructure, and a few divisions of the S-200VE SAM systems.

Within the framework of the Russian-Iranian agreements 1,000 T-72S tanks and 1,500 BMP-2 combat infantry vehicles, and Kornet ATGW systems were to be assembled in Iran under license (226 tanks and 192 combat infantry vehicles were already assembled).

According to available information, Tehran is ready to buy modern T-90S tanks from Russia (up to 450), BMP-3 combat infantry vehicles and BTR-90 armored personnel carriers (250), Ka-50 helicopters (over 60), and various artillery systems (Smerch and Uragan MRLS), SAM systems with assistance of which Moscow may actually build a real air defense for Iran (S-300PMU-1, Buk-M1, Igla portable SAM system), Su-24, Su-27, MiG-29 airplanes, and diesel submarines.

The Iranian Armed Forces also require spare parts, accumulator batteries, new types of radio sets, and so on. It is possible to supply all these items to Iran quickly only from warehouses of the Russian Armed Forces. This supply may even already be in progress. Evidently this was the topic of the meeting of Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev with his Iranian Counterpart Ali Shamhani.

This meeting was not advertised, and journalists were not admitted. However, some information was made available. Sources in the Defense Ministry admitted that “during the meeting the ministers discussed the progress of agreements on developing military technological cooperation achieved during Sergeev’s official visit to Iran in December 2000.” Moscow and Tehran also agreed to train Iranian specialists in Russia, and discussed a broad circle of issues dealing with problems of terrorism and separatism, primarily referring to the threat for the security of Russian, Iran, and other countries of the region originating from Afghanistan. The ministers also exchanged views on issues associated with building non-strategic missile defense, as well as strengthening the regime of mass destruction and missile technologies non-proliferation.

Thus, the Russian-Iranian collaboration has entered a new more active phase. It is already obvious that this will bring clear benefits to Russia even though Washington may impose sanctions on Russia. By developing relations with Tehran, Moscow is proving its independence from the US. This has strengthened not only its position in the region, but has also improved its reputation in the eyes of international community.